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Yatra fillip to Munde daughter

- Warm-up for polls
Pankaja Munde

Mumbai, Aug. 18: Gopinath Munde’s daughter Pankaja will embark on a yatra in poll-bound Maharashtra similar to a 1995 odyssey by her late father that had helped the BJP-Sena win power in the state for the first time.

The 14-day, 3,000km yatra from August 27 is also seen as the BJP’s bid to project Pankaja as the party’s OBC face and the political heir of Munde, who died in a car accident in Delhi in June this year. Pankaja, 31, is an MLA from the Munde family turf of Parli in Beed.

The yatra marking Pankaja’s rise comes after Poonam Mahajan, the daughter of the late Pramod Mahajan and currently a Mumbai MP, was inducted into new BJP president Amit Shah’s team. Mahajan was Munde’s brother-in-law.

On June 19, weeks after her father’s death, Pankaja was inducted into the core group of leaders in the BJP’s state unit in place of her father, indicating the party was carving out a larger role for her.

“The two-phased yatra will include 66 major and 200 smaller rallies. At the bigger rallies, senior state and central leaders will join Pankaja,” state BJP chief Devendra Fadnavis told reporters here today in the presence of Pankaja. Vinod Tawde, leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Council, was also present.

The yatra aims to strengthen the alliance before seniors embark on a full-fledged campaign aimed at unseating the Congress-NCP government.

Pankaja’s yatra will begin from Sindhkhed Raja in Buldhana district and spread across Vidarbha, Marathwada and other regions, Fadnavis said.

Munde was on way to Delhi airport to travel to his home constituency of Parli when his car met with the accident. He was to address a victory rally organised by supporters following his win from Beed Lok Sabha constituency in May.

The venue of the victory rally later turned into a funeral ceremony, thronged by thousands of Munde’s supporters.

Pankaja had won a lot of admirers when she faced the tragedy with grace and helped keep angry supporters calm after police wielded batons at the funeral.

During subsequent programmes to pay homage to Munde, Pankaja had said she would embark on the state-wide tour to connect with her father’s supporters, but the party had put it on hold till the opportune time, sources said.

Munde had undertaken the 1995 yatra campaigning against Sharad Pawar over the Enron project. He became deputy chief minister in the government headed by the Sena’s Manohar Joshi.